Majority of asthma sufferers do not achieve full work potential

A new study has shown that globally persons with bronchial asthma miss around one-tenth of their work hours due to the symptoms of the disease. This is directly associated with their loss of productivity and emotional health, the researchers explain.

Image Credit: Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock

The study was published in the latest issue of the Journal of Asthma and Allergy and was titled, “Asthma impacts on workplace productivity in employed patients who are symptomatic despite background therapy: a multinational survey.”

According to the World Health Organisation asthma affects around 235 million of the global population and this is one of the first studies that has quantified the amount of work hours that are lost due to the symptoms of this disease. The team of researchers looked at over 1,500 patients with symptoms of asthma living in six different countries. These participants were over the age of 18 years and had been diagnosed by a medical practitioner to have bronchial asthma and were on an inhaler or preventative medication to control their symptoms for a long time. Their asthma was diagnosed with the help of the Royal College of Physicians’ 3 Questions for Asthma tool. The participants were all employed in a part time or full time job occupation.

They noted that three fourth of all the workers with asthma did not achieve their full potential at work and there was absenteeism related to symptoms and exacerbations of asthma. This loss of full productivity also led to decline in emotional well being write the researchers. Some of them felt stress and embarrassment, says the study.

Lead researchers Dr Kevin Gruffydd-Jones from Box Surgery, Wiltshire, UK, said that this study involved participants from six different countries from Europe, North and South America and Asia including United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, Brazil, Canada and Japan. They had developed an online questionnaire based study wherein the participants had to fill up an online survey form called the “Work Productivity and Activity Impairment - Specific Health Problem” survey that was developed by the Research Now ® (London, UK). The questionnaire took into account the number of work hours missed per week, the loss of productivity over the past week. There were questions related to feeling about the disease condition as well as other emotional parameters associated with the asthma and its symptoms. The whole questionnaire took around 5 minutes to complete say the researchers.

The questionnaire was supplied to 2,055 screened participants over April to September in 2015 and responses from 1,598 symptomatic patients of asthma were recorded. Results revealed that around 9.3 percent of the total week’s work hours were missed by the asthma patients on an average. Minimum number of hours missed was reported from the UK at 3.5 percent and maximum was reported from Brazil at 17.4 percent. For both part time and full time employees, this translated into an average of 5.4 hours of work missed per week.

Full work potential was not achieved by 74 percent workers that roughly translated to three quarters of the population with asthma say the researchers. Reduction in productivity was reported among 42 percent of the workers say the researchers who analyzed the survey results. Overall productivity of the participants dropped by an average of 36 percent, due to symptoms of asthma. Minimum loss of productivity was seen in UK at 21 percent and maximum was noted in Brazil at 59 percent.

Most of the participants reported mental and physical strain, weakness or fatigue and emotional low due to their condition. Dr Gruffydd-Jones said, “...what struck us most was the emotional response to asthma in the workplace. A significant number of patients felt guilt, shame and embarrassment when using inhalers at work.” Participants reported to feeling inferior to their colleagues and reported feelings of being disadvantaged due to their symptoms and limitations. Around two in three participants felt that their asthma was negatively affecting their work lives.

The researchers reported that this was only a one-week survey where effects of the disease were seen over the working week alone. Further no comparisons were made with staff who did not have asthma. However the results are significantly important in occupational approach to patients with asthma.

The authors write in conclusion, “Strategies to improve patients’ lives may include asthma education, optimizing asthma management plans and running workplace well-being programs. Clinicians, employers and occupational health teams should be more aware of the impact of asthma symptoms on employees, and work together to help overcome these challenges.”

Dr Gruffydd-Jones explains that clinicians, employers and occupational health teams need to come together to understand the impact of this condition on the work lives of asthma patients. He said, “Clinicians must ask patients about the impact of asthma on their work and employers must encourage their workers to seek medical help and provide an 'asthma friendly' environment. This requires not only providing appropriate environmental controls but also a working environment that minimises embarrassment, such as allowing to staff to move out of the immediate work environment to use their inhalers.”

Journal reference:

Asthma impacts on workplace productivity in employed patients who are symptomatic despite background therapy: a multinational survey, Authors Gruffydd-Jones K, Thomas M, Roman-Rodríguez M, Infantino A, FitzGerald JM, Pavord I, Haddon JM, Elsasser U, Vogelberg C, https://doi.org/10.2147/JAA.S204278

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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